Monday, December 7, 2009

Patrick Swayze & the Night Visitor

A few years ago my wife and I moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, in April so we could find a place to live and get settled before I began seminary. We had decided we would camp in this beautiful part of the world while apartment-hunting. We had left Amarillo, Texas, well into spring with temperatures in the 70s, but we arrived at the end of the Vancouver winter with cold, wet weather in the 50s.

After asking around we found a beautiful area to camp several miles north of the city. We pitched our tent at a secluded campground with pine trees all around and snow-capped mountains that reflected into a perfect lake. After setting up camp we went into town for a while to see what leads we could get on apartments. Later, we returned to camp, grilled some hot dogs, and settled into the tent where we watched a movie on the computer (Dirty Dancing, I believe--roughing it!) Then we zipped into our sleeping bags and drifted off. It was perfect...until somewhere around midnight.


I heard a distant rumbling. The ground began to shake. Do they have earthquakes around here? Then I saw a blinding light as bright as the sun shining through the fabric of our tent. It was like high noon in West Texas. I couldn’t believe it but there was a train that ran about 20 yards away, roaring by our tent at midnight! I tossed and turned the rest of the night hoping another a train wouldn't come, which it didn’t. But that bright light and pounding rumble proved to be an inescapable memory.


The prophetic ministries of Isaiah and, centuries later, John the Baptizer were something like that train—bright, shocking, disturbing light shining into the cold darkness of Israel’s hearts. Many generations had come and gone since Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, since Moses and the Exodus, Jeremiah and the Judges, since King David, Solomon and the Temple, and hundreds more years of back and forth faithfulness and disobedience.


Despite God's own long-suffering and faithfulness, his people had routinely grown complacent in their worship and calling. Their experience of God was marked by dead ritual devoid of justice and mercy, and their cold hearts were no longer open to God’s warming love. They neither felt it nor showed it. This is when prophets appear on the scene. This is when God comes.


The same could be said about our culture today--perhaps even the church. Maybe we have gotten settled into the cold darkness and need to experience the shocking light of God’s presence. He is still the God who comes, barreling through the night, invading our secure little tents and our scenic slumber. That’s what Advent is about. Sleep in heavenly peace? How about "the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all flesh will see it together"!

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